[EAS] Prof. Simanek's "Museum of Unworkable Devices"

Peter J. Kindlmann peter.kindlmann at yale.edu
Thu Aug 5 00:16:36 EDT 2010

Dear Friends and Colleagues -

Last night, 38 years after graduating from Yale and having taken some of my
courses in the then Department of Engineering and Applied Science, an alumnus
wrote to tell me that Prof. Simanek <http://www.lhup.edu/~dsimanek/who.htm>
reminded him of me. I'm honored by the longevity of his memory, but am not
nearly as well qualified.

For example, I consider Prof. Simanek's "Museum of Unworkable Devices"
<http://www.lhup.edu/~dsimanek/museum/unwork.htm> a gem, a wonderful traversal
of perpetual motion machine proposals from ancient Greece onward.

As you know, the pursuit of perpetual motion continues unabated. The Patent
Office has streamlined its procedures for dealing with the onslaught, but the
public seems to be heading toward a veritably "Medieval" state of gullibility.

Various perpetual motion proposals are a fine vantage point for energy concepts
in courses dealing with (electro)mechanical devices.
Indeed, in perusing Prof. Simanek's material I learned that the Principle of
Virtual Work was invented by the Flemish mathematician and engineer Simon Stevin
(1548-1620) for refuting a perpetual motion machine proposal.


P.S.: For an entirely different exploration of unworkable devices, treat
yourself to a copy of Jacques Carelman "A Catalog of Unfindable Objects"
(English translation publ. by Frederick Muller, London 1984).
The original edition of Donald Norman's "The Design of Everyday Things" (when he
still had the courage to title it "The Psychology of Everyday Things") had one
of Carelman's objects on the cover -- a fancy teapot with spout and handle on
the same side. On Carelman's cover is a symmetrical bicycle, i.e. with
handlebars  on both ends, and just inside is a blank rectangle titled "A knife
without a blade whose handle is missing."

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